Flourishing from Work: Good or Bad for Business? For You?: Recommended Readings

Clifton, J. and J. Harter (2021). Wellbeing at Work: How to Build Resilient and Thriving Teams. New York, Gallup Press. Dig in a little deeper here.

Pirson, M. (2017). Humanistic Management : Protecting Dignity and Promoting Well-being. New York, Cambridge University Press.

Pope Francis (2015). Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ of The Holy Father Francis on Care for Our Common Home. Città del Vaticano, Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Sisodia, R. and M. J. Gelb (2019). The Healing Organization: Awakening the Conscience of Business to Help Save the World. New York, HarperCollins Leadership.

Wiener, N. (1954). The Human Use of Human Beings. Cambridge, MA, Da Capo Press.

Can you flourish from work? Because of work? Is flourishing from work good for business? Or is it bad for business? What about for you?

While a lot of people are talking about flourishing at work today, there is no consensus. Many people think it is either (1) inefficient to bring feelings and vulnerability into the rational process of efficiently converting inputs into outputs someone will value, or (2) it is just plain dangerous to do so. And, there is growing evidence that flourishing at work leads to flourishing in life. So, what is flourishing at work, and how does that flourishing impact business results? These five books address these questions, providing many case studies and lots of data, from across the globe on what flourishing is, how high-performing organizations are evolving their capacity for flourishing at work, and why this is required to address some of humanity’s large-scale issues. Let’s explore the five books, briefly, by alphabetical order of the authors.

Clifton and Harter synthesize lots of data gathered recently by the Gallup organization, looking at their five elements of wellbeing (career, social, financial, physical, community), with chapters dedicated to lots of data and examples about what healthier and higher performance looks like. They also frame four risks of NOT creating a net-thriving culture, as well as provide a roadmap for you to take on your own net thriving. Very accessible.

Pirson interweaves scholarly research in business with classic philosophy to build a framework for thinking about a more humanistic management, putting human dignity and well-being at the core of business practice and research. For those seeking to frame why and how they are proposing more humanistic ways to manage their business, Pirson provides an entry way to that logic, peppered with references to robust thinking about why and how a humanistic approach is more powerful.

Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical Lauato Si’ puts the flourishing human being, in community, at the center of the process for dealing with massive issues in our common home, our living earth. Our current choices are damaging this common home, which is causing a decline in the quality of human life and the breakdown of society. There is another path, of creativity, collaboration, and dialog. The consequences of flourishing from our organizations might be our capacity to creatively collaborate on addressing these massive challenges to our common home.

Sisodia and Gelb find that not only can people flourish at work, how we come together can actually be healing. Healing individually and as groups. Across companies and communities. They provide many examples of groups that are thriving and having huge impact, through their healing processes at work.

In his classic piece, Wiener shows how understanding humans as living feedback systems emboldens how organizations and society might engage them. People are more “patterns that perpetuate themselves” than “stuff that abides,” capable of extending themselves through their attention and intention into greater-than-self purposes. While quite technical and theoretical, at the founding of cybernetics, Wiener provides solid and simple frameworks to remember that people are amazing, evolving beings, and using them as cogs in a machine is a huge waste.

From the very practical to the very theoretical, from the very grounded to the very spiritual, these five books suggest that we humans can indeed flourish from work, and that human flourishing is good for business and good for you.

Leadership for Flourishing

Reimagine leadership as empowering human flourishing. A group of us have come together, from across the globe, to work on this. Human flourishing, leadership, character, and actual impact.

How do these elements fit together? Do people who figure this out and practice this every day do better? These are the questions we are asking. Find out more about how by visiting us at https://www.leadershipforflourishing.com.

You can also see an overview of this emerging thinking in the free online “Leadership for Flourishing” course offered by our colleagues at the Oxford Character Project and the Harvard Human Flourishing Program.

Want a Daily Practice for Thriving?

For thousands of years, people across the planet, everywhere, have founds ways to thrive. Within their local context, they have learned how to live a good life, a life well lived. They have learned how to see what is actually happening, with an ever-expanding embrace of reality and how they want to engage in it. In today’s modern world, many of these practices from other cultures, other places, and other times are presented as modern solutions. You might find that some of them work for you. It is mostly about trying it, keeping at it, and seeing what it does.

A practice for thriving designed for today’s contemplative practitioner is the Integral Polarity Practice (IPP). Building on wisdom traditions, with modern practitioners in mind, it works with transcending polarities–seeming opposites, often pulling in different directions–to bring more of your own creative Yes! to the world. Developed by my colleague John Kesler over many years, IPP supports your development and integration of stages of awareness, what some call “growing up,” and states of awareness, also called “waking up.” This practice is directly applicable to your own development, to your relationships, and to your organizations.

Flourishing at Work

According to a recent Gallup study, “Only 15% of the world’s one billion full-time workers are engaged at work.” 85% are not! How did this happen?

What can we do about it? My colleague Tyler VanderWeele, professor and Director of the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University, shares his recent research on flourishing at work in a January 27, 2021 post in Psychology Today. “Most people want to be engaged at work. The time passes more quickly, and the activities seem more fun. But engaged and satisfied employees are also good for business: they are more productive, less likely to leave the company, and less likely to waste time on the job. Engagement can have a major impact on costs, revenues, and profit.”

The mainstream is starting to pay attention to this. In a December 2020 HBR podcast, Christina Maslach, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley talks about “why burnout happens and how bosses can help. In November 202, the VisualCapitalist provided an infographic of “15 Warning Signs to Identify a Toxic Work Environment Before Taking a Job.” It is no longer rocket science or “that soft stuff.” The numbers are huge, and the costs are very real.

We need to realize that, as human beings, we are each uniquely constituted and contextualized, and therefore we are each uniquely engaged or disengaged. This means that to address engagement–flourishing at work–we need to inquire into each person’s context. We need to ask, listen, and try something, together. While this might seem expensive to do for each person, Tyler’s study showed that the costs of not doing so are far greater. Once we see that the costs of scarcity are far, far greater than the costs of abundance, the investment in Yes!, then we will start to make progress, creating thriving, regenerative organizations and communities. These authors are paving the way.